Hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts carrying smartphones are sharing data on a real-time map that shows where the best places are to see moose in British Columbia.
The MyMoose app, which appears to have spawned a moose-mapping war with a rival product now under development, was launched in August to test whether "citizen scientists" could provide worthwhile wildlife data.
Now, with a click of your cellphone, you can find out where the most moose are being seen in the province.
Just in case you need to know – the best area to spot a moose currently is the Thompson Nicola region, around Kamloops, where observers report seeing one every two hours. The place with the most moose is Omineca, an area northwest of Prince George, but spotting one in that vast wilderness takes about four hours.
The MyMoose app was dreamed up by Sean Simmons, publisher of the Angler's Atlas, an old-style catalogue for fishermen that is printed on paper.
Mr. Simmons said he has several hundred people, mostly hunters, now posting MyMoose reports on their smartphones.
"Currently we've got 350 members contributing data and we have almost 1,000 surveys submitted," he said of the project, which is still being developed. "This is our first experiment to see what sort of data we can actually generate."
Mr. Simmons, who had assistance from Simon Fraser University programmers, and graphic designers from the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, says the users are motivated by a desire to help gather meaningful data for wildlife managers.
"They are so committed to this, they will do it just for that reason," he said. "I thought for sure they'd have to get [free] hats or something, but what they say is: 'Assure me that what I'm doing is going to be helpful.'"
British Columbia's moose population has been in decline in recent years and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations has started a five-year project that is using radio collars to track about 200 moose. In addition, provincial wildlife biologists do annual helicopter surveys to keep track of population numbers.
But Mr. Simmons said that, with so many hunters and outdoor enthusiasts in the field, it was thought smartphones could be developed as a valuable tool.
He said to get hunters to buy in, the app had to be structured so that the public information wasn't so detailed people could actually use it to hunt.
"It's a very touchy subject," he said. "When we were going through the beta test this summer, we sat down with 60 hunters and outdoor enthusiasts and had them go through every single step of the app. What we learned was, if we release the [specific] locations these people are giving, they will come after us, possibly with guns. So we had to make sure we had a way to protect the [detailed] user data."
Mr. Simmons said detailed GPS information is available for wildlife biologists only.
"The region level data is so broad that you are not going to be able to figure out where the moose are," he said.
Jesse Zeman, resident priority program manager for the B.C. Wildlife Federation, said MyMoose is valuable, but his organization is currently working with the province to develop a separate app.
"As a conservation organization, our objective is to support the monitoring of wildlife populations and [MyMoose] is an innovative way to do it," he said. "But we are supporting the province in the creation of a [different] app to do that."
Mr. Zeman said he couldn't discuss the alternate app, but it will be modelled on a smartphone survey developed for hunters in Alberta.
In an e-mail, B.C. government spokesman Greig Bethel said the province "is working with the B.C Wildlife Federation and the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation to develop a tool to engage hunters and other members of the public in supporting wildlife research."